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'In 100 years, people will laugh at us for trying to ban drugs'


Marion Jones: found out by a police investigation

Marion Jones: found out by a police investigation

Marion Jones: found out by a police investigation

T im Noakes is 59, has run 70 marathons and is one of the most eminent sports scientists in the world.

Based in Cape Town, Professor Noakes is a trained doctor but his knowledge in the field of exercise psychology and health treatment is immense, earning him repute from his work in the field of physiology of human performances and other aspects of sporting performance.

From his well of knowledge, Noakes draws some pretty dramatic conclusions on the vexed issue of sport and drugs as the world focuses on Beijing and the Olympics.

"Society has to decide which way it wants to go forward. We have tried to force on sport the old British amateur theory. People in some countries don't understand that. The Chinese will do exceptionally well in their Olympics this month and who knows what they have been up to. They will be so dominant that people will question whether they followed the same doping controls as others. People may find they didn't. The Chinese have 20,000 elite athletes in training: Australia has 1,000, Britain 500. So what is the outcome going to be? The only hope is they have done some stupid things like over-training their guys in the last few months.

"We thought the Australians put a lot of financial resources behind their sport. It's going to be nothing compared to what the Chinese have done. The problem is, countries like Australia and the UK, whose funding is dependent on non-drug use, may find their position is untenable."

Drugs, and either the stark evidence or suspicion of them, are increasingly dominating modern day sports. Professor Noakes is no advocate of injecting yourself to the eyeballs and then going out like some zombie and performing phenomenally. But he is a realist. "Humans are already at their limits of individual performance. We won't have 40 more years of development and sport has to decide whether it is prepared for this tail-off in performances.

"The only things that can change it will be drugs and genetic engineering. So I think drugs will become widely used. In 100 years, people will laugh at us for trying to ban their use. Sport is the only activity where there is drug control. You can take drugs before playing music in a concert and no one questions it. You can take drugs to help you do your job."

But the consequence of this future tolerance, this throwing open of the doors that have tried to bar drugs from sport? Noakes is in no doubt on that subject. "To me, it is the death of sport as we knew it. But as I say, we came from the amateur era and this present situation is not sustainable. But maybe it won't worry the next generation and in 100 years, the generation won't give a damn, it will just be a spectacle. It's a surreal world we are talking about. Whether it will happen in my lifetime depends on what values the next generation has."

Noakes has equally bleak words on the topic of drug testing and the uncovering of steroid abuse. His message is, forget it.

The busting of drug cheats like Marion Jones did not come about because she was caught in tests; rather, as it turned out, through a police focus on alleged money laundering. That opened a particular can of worms that led all the way to the doorstep of the woman sprint star of the Sydney Olympics who, sickeningly, had protested again and again 'I'm no drug cheat, I've never taken drugs'.

Noakes says: "The athletes have been caught as a side thing because they (the authorities) found the doctors that had been giving the drugs. The fact is athletes are now using drugs that are undetectable. There is a whole industry working on it and any chemist with some brains can produce undetectable steroids. It's simple to get around the testing. In a way, I feel sorry for a lady like Marion Jones, even though I was revolted by her lies. You only had to look at her body to know she was taking anabolic steroids for the last few years".

So here is the unappealing future scenario. The Olympic Games, indeed any sport, will become, in effect, a contest between rival factions in the pharmaceutical industry. The battle of the labs?

Noakes is equally disturbed at such a syndrome, saying: "The pharmaceutical companies would love it. I don't watch track and field athletics any more because I don't believe the results. When I see guys running 9.7 for the 100m, it's a joke. They are 9.9 runners using steroids. It just astonishes me people take them seriously. But maybe a guy 30 years younger than me may see it differently." The price of all this, the naïve might suspect, will be simply the cost of the drugs. Not so. "It will be a disaster for the athletes because these drugs do have medical consequences," he says. "But it will mean whole societies will be on drugs because in one sense, we are all underperforming. We look better with these drugs; we can run faster, cycle further.

"But these drugs will mean those taking them at the top of their sports won't have long lives. Take the guys in the World Wrestling Federation -- they don't live too long. Anyone using these drugs will pay with an early death. And in the meantime, there will be bizarre behavioural patterns. We looked at the mental changes in some of these guys and one guy went out and beat up a car. Some were even linked to murders. People become generally more aggressive in these circumstances."

Sobering thoughts as another Olympic Games gets into full flow.